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Friday, July 24, 2015

Movie review: Pixels pumps '80s video game nostalgia into an enjoyable throwaway farce

Posted By on Fri, Jul 24, 2015 at 8:08 AM

Pixels★★★ Now playing Adam Sandler has spent so many years producing one abominable film after another (while still inexplicably turning tidy profits) that there’s an understandable impulse to assail anything with the faintest echoes of his previous affronts to cinema. So when grown men are called upon to employ their dormant video gaming skills to save Earth in Pixels, it automatically has to be an example of Sandler’s arrested development. When the geeks get the beautiful, younger girls, it’s another instance of male wish fulfillment. Or perhaps Pixels is just kooky, kitschy amusement along the lines of Ghostbusters, or even...

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Movie review: Amy Schumer's brilliant sketch comedy goes off the rails in Trainwreck

Posted By on Fri, Jul 17, 2015 at 4:21 PM

Trainwreck ★★ Now playing Trainwreck, the much-anticipated collaboration between director Judd Apatow and writer/star Amy Schumer, is a new twist on an old scam. It's a bait-and-switch in which the viewer is promised one kind of film in the marketing blitz and then finds an inferior product in the theater. Schumer plays a version of her own comic persona, simply named Amy, who works as a magazine writer in New York City. The first several scenes establish her as a serial bed-hopper staunchly in favor of casual hookups. Her parents' disastrous marriage has convinced her that monogamy isn't just undesirable;...

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Movie review: Ant-Man clears the bar by lowering the stakes

Posted By on Fri, Jul 17, 2015 at 12:26 PM

Ant-Man ★★★★ Now playing So you planted your lore in World War II and then hurled it outward, filling a universe with superheroes, aliens and gods. You steadily pumped up the stakes, from a man saving himself (Iron Man) to a man saving the world (Captain America: The First Avenger) to a team saving the world (The Avengers) to aliens saving the galaxy (Guardians of the Galaxy). What do you do when you can’t go bigger? The Marvel Cinematic Universe offers a clever answer with Ant-Man—think very small. In some ways, Ant-Man is a lot like Guardians. Both are affable...

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Friday, July 10, 2015

Movie review: Amy is an exceptional documentary you might not want to see

Posted By on Fri, Jul 10, 2015 at 1:40 PM

Amy ★★★ Now playing In her short career, Amy Winehouse stunned the music world as a genius-level jazz vocalist and natural-born songwriter. She was an artist of massive wattage—a feisty North Londoner with a smart mouth and a fragile heart. In the devastating documentary Amy, director Asif Kapadia tells the story of Winehouse's tilt-a-whirl life and sudden, tragic death. The approach is simple and direct. Voiceover interviews with friends and family are fused with archival images, performance footage and handheld video. Every combination of sound and picture is composed to bring us viscerally into Winehouse’s world. Kapadia and his producers...

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Movie review: Minions proves that Despicable Me's charming little villains work best in small doses

Posted By on Fri, Jul 10, 2015 at 11:27 AM

Minions★ ½ Now playing Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “minion” as “a servile dependent, follower, or underling.” In the case of Minions, a prequel and spin-off of the popular Despicable Me franchise, the overlord isn’t über-baddy Felonius Gru. It’s the money-changing moviemakers mainlining the yellow pill-shaped playthings into the adrenal glands of youngsters—and the wallets of their parents. Minions isn’t irredeemable, although it toes the line. It’s just lazy—a mashup of moving colors and gibberish that lacks wit or narrative purpose. Like lemmings, the titular anthropomorphic plush toys fall off a creative cliff. In this origin story, the Minions emerge from the...

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Friday, July 3, 2015

Movie review: Saint Laurent, a biopic of the French designer, is a visual feast of excess and fashion

Posted By on Fri, Jul 3, 2015 at 1:20 PM

Saint Laurent★★ ½ Now playing There is plenty to appreciate about director Bertrand Bonello’s flamboyant, kaleidoscopic fever dream of a biopic of Yves Saint Laurent (played by lookalike Gaspard Ulliel). It’s a mesmerizing depiction of the esteemed French designer’s agonized grasp for all-consuming beauty and creative genius, and it plays out like a tragic love story. The tortured-artist theme may not be fresh, but there is something compelling about Bonello’s ultra-vivid style. Manicured models, swaths of rich textiles and the glittery dust of disco nights are a visual feast of materialistic excess and great fashion. But for history buffs, or anyone...

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Movie review: Love & Mercy surfs the troubled waters of Beach Boys maestro Brian Wilson

Posted By on Fri, Jul 3, 2015 at 10:16 AM

Love & Mercy★★★ Now playing Bill Pohlad’s biopic of Brian Wilson drops two talented actors into the enigmatic Beach Boys leader's troubled waters, but even their combined efforts can get only so deep. In Love & Mercy, Paul Dano (convincingly doughy, bright-eyed and vulnerable) plays Wilson in the ’60s, during the creation of the revolutionary album Pet Sounds and single “Good Vibrations," as he steers his reluctant bandmates away from catchy songs about surfing, toward Beatles-challenging pop music of symphonic intricacy. He is at the top of his talents and success but already shows signs of trouble: panic attacks, withdrawal from touring...

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Movie review: Layers of metafiction can't conceal Gemma Bovery's lightweight core

Posted By on Fri, Jun 12, 2015 at 11:41 AM

Gemma Bovery★★ ½  Now playing Martin Joubert is profoundly bored. A humble baker in a small Normandy town, he has little to occupy his days. His wife doesn't like him much and his teenage son has disappeared into hoodies and headphones. Each day, Martin's work is done by dawn. All he has is his books. So when an exotic English couple (from London!) moves into the house across the street, Martin gets interested. That interest becomes obsession when he realizes that his new neighbors are, in some cosmic crossover, living out the plot of his favorite work of literature—Madame Bovary, the...

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Movie review: Melissa McCarthy powers the action spoof Spy

Posted By on Fri, Jun 5, 2015 at 11:59 AM

Spy ★★★ Now playing When she's on her game, Melissa McCarthy is one of the funniest people on the planet. A seasoned improv veteran, her extemporaneous comedy instincts are off the charts—check out the gag reel from Bridesmaids for instant evidence. But so far, McCarthy's headlining roles in feature films haven't played out so great. Her buddy-cop adventure The Heat, with Sandra Bullock, felt like a missed opportunity. And last year's anti-comedy Tammy was a total mess. So I'm pleased to report that the new comedy Spy finally provides McCarthy with a pitch she can hit. Written and directed by Bridesmaids conspirator...

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Queue: Netflix picks for sci-fi haters

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2015 at 12:17 PM

Perhaps you're familiar with this dilemma: There's a certain genre of movie that you adore and your significant other hates. Science fiction, say. When it comes to movie night at home, this becomes an issue. You explain to your partner—slowly, gently, as to a child—the many fine qualities of the genre, its rich history, and the subtle symbolic threads that can be teased out of the best films. But your passionate advocacy fails to elicit an accord, and you end up watching yet another goddamn Woody Allen movie. Friends, I am here to help. Below are five excellent science fiction...

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Movie review: The boys are back in Entourage

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2015 at 10:59 AM

Entourage ★★★ Opens Friday When movies are made from a book or TV show, fans of the source material often approach the film with trepidation. Breathe easy if you were a fan of the HBO series Entourage. The big-screen version is just the show writ large. Of course, that also means it has the same flaws as the series. Chief among them is that women are merely objects to pursue or, in some cases, flee. Even the ones whose characters are fleshed out beyond “big boobs, tight ass” are defined by relationship issues—will Sloan and Eric manage to coexist while...

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Friday, May 29, 2015

Movie review: Iris Apfel is fascinating, but Albert Maysles' Iris is a mixed bag

Posted By on Fri, May 29, 2015 at 2:32 PM

Iris ★★★ Now playing The late Albert Maysles’ documentary Iris, which is getting a local theatrical release after screening at Full Frame, captures the daily life of the eponymous Iris Apfel as she goes about her business as an international style icon. Apfel, an interior designer, founded the rare-textile company Old World Weavers before becoming a fashion darling in her 80s. Iconic for her huge glasses, loud outfits and shock of lavender-tinted white hair, Apfel is a fascinating human, but Iris is a mixed bag. At 90, Apfel is absolutely charming in her salty New York bluntness, as she dispenses...

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Movie review: The Wrecking Crew puts names to the notes of some iconic music

Posted By on Fri, May 29, 2015 at 11:55 AM

The Wrecking Crew ★★★ Now playing The story behind the making of The Wrecking Crew is nearly as interesting as the film itself. In 1995, director Denny Tedesco set out to document the life story of his father, legendary guitarist Tommy Tedesco, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Tommy was one of a group of Los Angeles session musicians in the 1960s known as The Wrecking Crew, who played on thousands of famous albums by such artists as The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Herb Alpert, Dean Martin, The Mamas & the Papas, The Monkees, John Denver and many more....

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Movie review: Disney's Tomorrowland gets Lost along the way

Posted By on Fri, May 22, 2015 at 9:26 AM

Tomorrowland★★ Now playing Given that Tomorrowland was written principally by Damon Lindelof, co-creator of the television series Lost, it’s little surprise that the film opens with a fascinating premise and then weaves a tantalizing tapestry of plotlines before fizzling in a flawed, anticlimactic finale. The true lament is that Lindelof even manages to taint the previously unassailable Brad Bird. After a sojourn spent directing the last Mission: Impossible sequel, Bird returns to the theme of exceptionalism that runs through his grand triumvirate: Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. But Tomorrowland is just a nostalgia-steeped Epcot Theme Park ride, where high-minded aspirations devolve...

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Movie review: Meet the Swedish Forrest Gump in The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Posted By on Thu, May 21, 2015 at 4:05 PM

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared★★★ ½  Opening Friday Droll, daffy and entirely enjoyable, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is a Swedish comedy whose screwy rhythms extend well beyond its title. Based on Jonas Jonasson's best-selling comic novel, the film was a gigantic hit in Europe last year. The default description would be a kind of Swedish riff on Forrest Gump. It begins with centenarian Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) dropping out of the window of his retirement home and wandering to the bus station. As his newest adventure unfolds, we get his life story...

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Movie review: Ripped-from-the-headlines drone warfare in Good Kill

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2015 at 12:28 PM

Good Kill★★ ½ Opening Friday Writer/director Andrew Niccol’s biggest achievement in Good Kill is finding a way to make drone warfare genuinely thrilling. It’s too bad that the Gattaca and Lord of War director’s storytelling fails to reach the same heights. Drone pilot Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) dreams of the days when he used to fly F-16s. When he confesses to his wife, Molly (January Jones), “I miss the fear,” he’s nostalgic for the rush of “real” combat and its built-in justification for violence. As he stares at his computer screen for hours, surveilling people he may or may...

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Movie review: Charlize Theron is an action hero for a new era in Mad Max: Fury Road

Posted By on Thu, May 14, 2015 at 2:00 PM

Mad Max: Fury Road★★★★ Opening Friday In Greek mythology, the Furies were goddesses of justice and vengeance, particularly for crimes against the natural order. Mad Max: Fury Road takes cues from this feminist allegory while delivering—in spades—the sheer havoc the title also suggests. Director George Miller paints an immersive post-apocalyptic epoch where societal structure has been upended, and its most susceptible members—mainly women and children—are natural resources. Chalk-white “War Boys” compose the indoctrinated army of King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the grotesque tyrant of the Citadel, one of the few remaining human strongholds in a barren desert wasteland. Joe rations...

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Movie review: High-school glory days loom over Jack Black and James Marsden in The D Train

Posted By on Fri, May 8, 2015 at 12:08 PM

The D Train★★ ½ Now playing The D Train is a comedy that doesn't really work, but at least it doesn't work in interesting ways. It's unpredictable and it takes a lot of risks, some of which pay off. Jack Black headlines as Dan Landsman, a schlubby and insecure Pittsburgh suburbanite whose remaining self-esteem rests on his position as chairman of the high-school alumni committee. Dan has appointed himself chairman, though, so I'm not sure how official the title really is. Dan is the sort of grown-up who hasn't gotten over his high-school experience. He was never the popular guy, and...

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Movie review: Superhero blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron assimilates the A.I. sci-fi craze

Posted By on Thu, Apr 30, 2015 at 2:15 PM

Avengers: Age of Ultron★★★★ Opening Friday Part of the fun of following movies—especially science-fiction movies—is seeing how they reflect our current cultural anxieties. Stories about artificial intelligence go way back, through Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey all the way to Metropolis. Recent entries such as Ex Machina and Her have updated the genre with queasy psycho-sexual elements. The idea of artificial intelligence clearly freaks us out, as a people. With Avengers: Age of Ultron, director Joss Whedon's superior popcorn movie, the A.I. story gets plugged into a comic-book template. It's a perfect fit. The A.I. threat is...

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Full Frame (Saturday): It's not paranoia if they're really after you

Posted By on Sun, Apr 12, 2015 at 10:46 AM

Update: After this post, (T)ERROR won The Reva and David Logan Grand Jury Award, sharing the prize, for the first time in Full Frame history, with another film, Kings of Nowhere. See the full list of award-winners, which were announced yesterday, here. Audiences mainlining three full days of this year’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival could be excused if they donned tin foil hats and began speaking Esperanto. At a minimum, festivalgoers might feel a distinct disincentive to live near a nuclear power facility (Containment) or coal mine (Overburden), call the police (Peace Officer), use the Internet (Deep Web),...

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Full Frame: Cue the queues at the festival's bountiful Friday

Posted By on Sat, Apr 11, 2015 at 3:55 PM

After wading into the relatively shallow Thursday pool of opening-day films, the 18th Full Frame Documentary Festival dove headlong into its perennially plentiful Friday fare. Amid a sea of food tents and converted hotel ballrooms, it was time for the full panoply of passholders to navigate the lines winding like tributaries through the festival’s four-block radius in downtown Durham. There are Green Lines and Blue Lines. There are Last Minute Lines. There are Will Call lines. There are lines for food and lines into the parking garage across the street from the Carolina Theatre. Still, Full Frame’s queuing process,...

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Full Frame: The stories go on beyond the big screen

Posted By on Sat, Apr 11, 2015 at 10:07 AM

I’m never more thrilled at Full Frame than when the movie ends, the lights fade up and the filmmakers and subjects are there. It’s a rush. These folks have gone from random people to confidants and, as such, turned the audience from passive observers to sympathetic ears in a few frames of films. It’s proof of life—a signal that the stories being documented keep going. For those of you who haven’t had that thrill yet, here are a few signs of life from films that have screened so far to get you inspired. 1. Conrad Anker’s sweet Instagram Meru...

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Full Frame: We recap last night's Opening Night Party at the Durham Armory

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 at 3:23 PM

Through on-and-off downpours, filmmakers, festival staff, press and priority pass holders made it across the street from the Carolina Theatre to the Durham Armory last night for one of Full Frame’s most coveted tickets: the Opening Night Party. This is the festival’s prime opportunity for visiting documentarians, in town to present their films, to meet up with each other and let their hair down, sharing creative conversations over an open bar and late-night supper. A Green Team was on site to collect the compostable cups, plates and utensils used to consume the sumptuous buffet of fresh strawberries, steamed mussels, marinated...

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Full Frame: Though very different, Iris and War Photographer both leave our writer feeling “breathlessly empowered”

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 at 10:33 AM

Get off your ass and make your work. That’s what I learned on the first day of Full Frame. Thursday morning offered an unlikely double feature, Iris and War Photographer. On the surface, these two films could not be more opposite. For Iris, the late Albert Maysles followed the fabulous, hilarious, colorful fashion icon Iris Apfel as she goes about her days collecting clothing and accessories and working with gallery directors, photographers and fashion houses. War Photographer is Christian Frei’s profile of James Nachtwey as he shoots some of the world's worst combat zones and most appalling scenes of poverty...

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Movie review: Noah Baumbach's knack for mixing verbose wit and family drama falters in While We're Young

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 at 8:33 AM

While We’re Young★★ Now playing Director Noah Baumbach’s eighth film, While We’re Young, serves up his signature existential crises of the neurotic and monied. Ben Stiller stars as Josh, a film teacher with a middling career and an eight-years unfinished documentary. Josh and his wife, Cornelia (Naomi Watts), are cruising into middle-age and beginning to become anxious about their childlessness when they meet a hip young couple, Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). Josh and Cornelia see in Jamie and Darby all the freedom and cultural savvy of 21st-century youth. The twist is that the young couple’s aplomb...

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